Eugenia Fisher “Genie” Elder, a farmer and conservationist, died of organ failure Feb. 1 at her Sparks home. She was 85.
Born in Baltimore, she was the daughter of Janon Fisher, a farmer and thoroughbred horse breeder, and Margie James, a gardener. She was raised on her family’s farm, The Caves, in Eccleston in Baltimore County.
“With her six siblings, she rode horses, cared for cows, chickens and dogs and spent her early life outdoors, freely exploring the streams, woods and pastures of the Caves Valley,” said her daughter, Eugenia E. Moore.
She graduated from Garrison Forest School in 1955 and began exercising race horses and foxhunting while helping her family on their new farm, Deer Park in Glyndon.
In 1959, she married Thomas S. Elder, who would become a project manager for Glen Burnie-based McLean Contracting Company, which builds infrastructure.
They settled on their own small farm in Sparks, where they resided for many years.
“My mother was a homesteader and farmer,” said her daughter Eugenia E. Moore. ”She lived lightly on the land and created a subsistence farm on five acres, where she grew vegetables, berries and an assortment of native fruit trees.”
Her daughter said Mrs. Elder canned and froze what she grew and supplied much of what her family consumed long after the garden was wintering over.
“She foraged for wild foods, including watercress, wild mushrooms and crayfish from the woods and streams. She was ahead of her time with organic food. It was natural for her,” her daughter said. “My family often had surprises on their plates. There could be violets or wisteria blossoms in salads or juice in the icebox made from sumac berries.”
Her attention was not just on animals and plants. She also helped her husband cut firewood for their woodstove and dug holes for their fences.
On three occasions she extended a ladder and painted the wooden German siding on their late 1800s farmhouse.
“My mother always cared for a Jersey cow,” her daughter said. “She milked by hand twice a day for over 35 years, which hampered her ability to go anywhere. She always had to be home to milk.’”
Mrs. Elder named her cows with the letter F and had a favorite named Flossie.
She shared the non-homogenized, unpasteurized, raw milk with friends who drank it unprocessed and unadulterated.
She also made her own butter and a milky cheese she called curds.
“She was ahead of her times. She was recycling in the 1970s. She refused to use a microwave and paper towels were a no with her,” said her son, Thomas C. Elder. “Her milk customers would drive up from Rockville once a week and it became an all day affair. They got a lesson in nature and went home with vegetables she raised.”
Mrs. Elder was an early volunteer at the Irvine Nature Center, at its first home in Stevenson. She led nature walks for school children, and helped them identify wildflowers and other plants and learn about wildlife.
Family members said she was devoted to the land around her and was active in fighting the development of farmland in Baltimore County.
“She didn’t believe in manicuring the outside spaces, preferring to allow wildlife habitat to take over,” said her daughter.
“She was quiet, even tempered and fierce when it came to developments when people wanted to put roads through,” said her sister, Julie Colhoun. “She was very much for stewardship of the countryside.”
She felt a dead tree was a perfect place for woodpeckers. She didn’t believe in mulching and liked volunteer plants to fill in gardens, blending into existing plants and shrubs.
The Morning Sun
She was a fanatic about “no mow” along country roads, many times intercepting the county mowing crews as they ventured up her narrow road.
“Her property was an active aviary,” her daughter said. “Her feeders attracted all varieties of bird life. She was partial to the Jenny Wren, and provided baskets and hats for them to nest in.”
She followed live camera shots of a specific bird’s nest or migrations in other parts of the country and around the world.
She was a dedicated reader and enjoyed nature studies, world history and biographies. She viewed the entire Civil War series by Ken Burns multiple times on PBS.
[ Thomas Hicks, traffic engineer who raised sheep, dies ]
She followed the Baltimore Orioles and the NASA space program. She was also a devoted horseracing fan and followed contests in the U.S and England.
Survivors include her husband, Thomas S. Elder; a daughter, Eugenia E. Moore of Baltimore; a son, Thomas C. Elder of Upperco; three sisters, Amelia “Meena Fisher” of Hoopers Island, Julie Colhoun of Upperco and Ann Este Stifel of Gloucester, Virginia; a brother, Janon Fisher of Freeland; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 1 p.m. today at the Episcopal Church of St. John’s Western Run Parish, 3738 Butler Road.